Caregiver Stress During the Holidays

The holidays are a delightful time of the year. We get to see friends and family, exchange gifts and enjoy our holiday specialties! But ask a caregiver how they feel about the holidays and you will get a mix of emotions, all of them valid.

If you have never been a family caregiver before, you may think that it is not that much different than caring for a child. You couldn’t be more wrong. Caring for another adult takes a greater toll on caregivers. Physically it is hard to pick up or move another adult for toileting or transferring to bed or into a car. Emotionally, it can be a challenge, particularly if it involves the role reversal of caring for your own parent. It can be difficult to see the physical and mental changes that come with a parent’s decline. It is stressful taking care of someone who is frail with co-morbidities. There is the expense associated with loss of work, out of pocket such as medicine and supplies. There is the lack of sleep, if the one being cared for has a diagnosis such as dementia, they may suffer from sundowners or other related symptoms.

Now imagine all this and adding the holidays on top of it. Although the caregiver is happy to see friends and family, there may be some resentment mixed in there. They may feel that other family members should be helping out in some of the caregiving duties. Or, they may feel jealous that others have the freedom to live their own lives because they are far removed from the situation. They may also be worried that there isn’t enough time or they lack holiday spirit to go shopping, decorate and cook for the holidays.

The best thing to do is recognize these feelings and get some help. Here are some ideas that may help ease the burden:

  1. Let go of the idea that the holidays have to be perfect or the way that they were always done. Pies from the local bakery are just as good, quite frankly. If someone really wants Aunt Tilly’s stuffing at dinner, happily give them the recipe so they can make it.
  2. The whole house does not need to look as though it belongs in the North Pole. A pre-lit small tree is less expensive and less messy than they real ones. Keep the rest of the décor minimal.
  3. You can order groceries on line and they will deliver them right to you or drop them off in your trunk. No lines, no hassles.
  4. Online shopping is also great for gift giving, but even if that is too much, gift cards never run out of style.
  5. Accept help as it is given. If your sister can watch Mom for 4 hours or your son volunteers to shovel the walkway, take them up on it. Don’t be a martyr because if you keep saying no, they will stop asking.
  6. Consider contacting a home health agency to come in a few hours a day so that you can take care of Mom or Dad and you can get some things done or rest. Not just for the holidays but going the forward. If you don’t take care of yourself, you cannot possibly take care of the one who needs your care. Or maybe have a health aid come in at night so you can have a good night’s sleep.
  7. Consider sending your loved one to an Adult Day Health program. Most programs provide pick up and drop off. So, while you work or shop, you will have the peace of mind knowing that your loved one will be engaged with other seniors, have medical supervision and will safely have lunch.
  8. If you are upset with your siblings because you feel that they do not help enough, let them know. They may not realize that you need help.  
  9. Respite care maybe a solution. Contact local assisted livings in your area and see what is available. Many offer flexible and affordable solutions.
  10. Seek professional counseling. At one point or another, we all need a non-judgmental sounding board who can also help us see things differently. There is no shame is asking for help for yourself.

The holidays are about being together with those you love, kindness and  generosity. A caregiver is the living definition of all those things. So, be kind to yourself. You cannot pour from an empty cup.

©Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. 35 Arnold Street, New Bedford, MA 02740, 336 South Street,   Hyannis MA 02601 and 45 Bristol Drive, Easton MA 02375.  This article is for illustration purposes only.  This handout does not constitute legal advice.  There is no attorney/client relationship created with Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. by this article.  DO NOT make decisions based upon information in this handout.  Every family is unique and legal advice can only be given after an individual consultation with an elder law attorney.  Any decisions made without proper legal advice may cause significant legal and financial problems.